Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Organic Lawn Care - Why bother?

This has been a huge goal of mine, to organically maintain our lawn.

What's wrong with fertilizers?

Well, the first thing is you're basically throwing your money away. Sure, that spring fertilizer helps green your lawn up quickly but that's about all it does. It's designed to give a short burst of food and anything the lawn cannot absorb in a short amount of time washes away (remember - fertilizers are water-soluble). The big problem with this is the chemicals leech into the local watershed (where does your tap water come from?) and, if you live between the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains, contributes to the massive algae and phytoplankton blooms that appear in the Gulf of Mexico every summer. This is a large enough problem that many states (though not Wisconsin), municipalities and Canadian Provinces have outlawed the use of fertilizers containing phosphorous.

And weed-n-feed or a lawn service?

Let's analogize this. You have a plantar wart on your foot. In order to get rid of it, do you just apply a medication to the wart or do you slather your whole body in it? Wouldn't the latter be just a bit overkill?

No lawn is 100% weed. In fact, it's safe to say that even the worst lawn is about 90% turf and 10% weed. So why would you apply weed killer to that 90% that doesn't need it? All of that excess, again, washes off into the groundwater or volatilizes into the air. And one of the most common chemicals in the herbicides used has been linked to a host of health problems, including an increased risk for non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

Add to that that manufacturers are only required to include active ingredients on the label. Active ingredients do not include inert materials, like heavy metals.

And... pesticides?

Again, if you have a problem with one particular pest - ants, for example - why would you apply a generic battery of chemicals designed to kill all sorts of insects to treat one problem? You may kill the pest but you're also killing the beneficial creatures like worms, birds and honeybees.

It doesn't just stay outdoors

All of these chemicals get tracked inside - by you, your children, your pets. It affects indoor air quality. Exposing your children to these chemicals can increase their chance of developing leukemia seven-fold. Contact with low levels of pesticides increases the risk of miscarriage and there has been a documented links between them and breast cancer. And studies have documented that exposure to lawns treated with herbicides four or more times a year doubled a dog's risk of canine lymphoma.

So, why go Organic?

Given all of that, I don't know why anyone would even think about using synthetic methods. But, if you still need convincing, I can give you 1 good reason to give organic lawn care a shot:

It's cheaper.

Just because your lawn looks green and weed-free doesn't mean it's healthy. Real health starts in the soil, which has been nuked to kingdom come by the products that are supposed to help - killing the worms, disturbing soil pH - increasing dependence on these products to continue looking good. Think of these products like steroids for your lawn - the more you use them, the more you need them to maintain that perfectly manicured appearance.

By going green, you can save all of that money you previously spent buying weed-n-feed for your lawn 4 times a year or paying someone else to do it for you. Also, an organic lawn uses less water than a lawn on steroids - the root system is deeper, better able to cope with drought. 40-60% of summer water use is spent on watering lawns - that's 40-60% of your water bill you could spend elsewhere!

In the next post I'll get into the nitty-gritty of organic lawn care. In the meantime, I leave you with some articles.

The Dark Side of Lawns
Beyond Pesticides - Lawn care: Hazards and Alternatives

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